Coverings, Calendars, and Ketubahs

As Jewish heritage spans many countries, cultures, and customs, the ceremonial and ritual objects pictured here are only a few of many permutations and preferences.  Nevertheless, they share the same background and prominence in their congregations and households. The conservation of these pieces often had the added task of ensuring that these objects could still be used or ritually displayed, which will also be discussed.

The Torah is kept in a special case, called the Aron Habrit, or Ark of the Covenant, either in front of or within the synagogue walls, which is itself covered by a special curtain.  These curtains are lavishly adorned and constructed with fine materials, so the example provided here is certainly no exception to their grandiosity.  The tassels, fringing, and embroidered gold inscriptions are all traditional elements, though according to some sources, the orange is a less common variant of the usual red or blue.  Its purpose in the modern day can be traced back to the many rugs and tent cloth draperies which accompanied the Tabernacle for the earliest Hebrews.  One term used for this type of Torah mantle is paroket, which denotes its dividing purpose between the sacredness of the scrolls within and the less holy surroundings without.  For a discussion of the conservation of this artifact and information about its unique history, please see: The Torah Mantle: Preserving a Cultural Treasure.

A ketubah is first and foremost a marriage document, but as a cherished possession displayed prominently in one’s home, it is invariably well decorated.  Illumination and calligraphy are frequently used, and The Center has examples of both.  The first illustrated document hails recently from Glencoe, IL, and richly depicts an Eden of flora and fauna. The treatment included stabilization of the sheet, which had torn already in its short lifetime.  Our second is a calligraphic example on vellum from 1860.  The English underneath the scripted Hebrew seems to indicate a similar American origin, yet the presentation is clearly borrowing from more traditional aesthetics.  It came to The Center for basic cleaning and a new frame, both of which will help the document’s longevity.  Finally, a ketubah from Turkey our conservators treated combines both the vellum sheet and the inked script of the 1860 piece, but is bordered by a floral motif in watercolors.  Interestingly enough, the entire document appears to be in Hebrew, rather than half that language and half the language of the residents’ country, like the previous two.  It arrived at The Center in two pieces, but our conservators mended the precious document and its halves are rejoined once more.

The Sefirat Ha-omer, or the Counting of the Omer, occurs between Passover and Shavuot, with a recitation of a blessing each night in anticipation of the anniversary of the giving of the Torah.  Each day of blessings includes an Omer-count, which states what day of the Omer it is and how many weeks and days it has been from the start.  This Omer calendar thus places on the top row the count of the Omer, while the second row is the week, and the third the day.  This explains the presence of two 3s and a blank square: the week is still the third for the 26th and 27th days of the Omer, but the 28th is 4 weeks total, with no extra days.  In order to allow the owner of this illuminated scroll to both display the calendar as an artwork and to progress through the Omer, the Custom Framing and Fabrication department created a vitrine which would keep the scroll safe for either display or use.  A report on its construction can be found here: Omer Calendar Scroll.

Hanukkah menorahs are some of the most recognizable accoutrements of Judaism, due in no small part, one suspects, to that holiday’s close proximity to Christianity’s blockbuster holiday.  Nevertheless, they remain not only recognizable but widely produced, both in the traditional candelabra forms and in more modern interpretations. The only prerequisite is that there be 8 candles at the same height, plus an additional one, preferably above the rest– the menorahs used within synagogues since ancient times lack this extra candle, which is specific to the Hanukkah menorah. The artifact that arrived at The Conservation Center was in a woeful state, then, for the additional candle’s holder had broken off, rendering it inadequate for the Hanukkah celebrations.  Thankfully, the conservators were able to straighten the arm and reattach it, thus restoring a family treasure to usefulness once again.

To read the other article written for the “Heritage Artifacts” January Newsletter, please visit: Horses, Houses, and Honored Ancestors.

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